Home » Deepening the United States-ASEAN People-to-people Relationship: Investing in Education Cultural Exchange and the Next Generation of Leaders

Deepening the United States-ASEAN People-to-people Relationship: Investing in Education Cultural Exchange and the Next Generation of Leaders

The strength of U.S.-ASEAN relations is anchored in the friendship shared by our combined one billion people. Each year the United States provides more than $70 million to support educational and cultural exchanges with the people of Southeast Asia, which foster greater understanding, enhance cooperation, and create lifelong friendships that increase the long-term strength and resilience of communities across the United States and ASEAN.

At the historic 2022 U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit in Washington, D.C., President Biden and Vice President Harris significantly expanded the United States’ investment in educational, cultural, and people-to-people ties through new concrete commitments:

  • Announced  doubling the size of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, or “YSEALI” – now celebrating its 10th anniversary – within three years;
  • Extended the Billion Futures Scholarship program so that more students from Southeast Asia can study at U.S. universities;
  • Doubled the Fulbright U.S.-ASEAN Visiting Scholars Program;
  • Launched a new exchange program, “U.S.-ASEAN University Connections Initiative,” to facilitate collaboration among academics from the United States and Southeast Asia;
  • Expanded English language training programs in Southeast Asia;
  • Announced the launch of the U.S.-ASEAN Institute for Rising Leaders at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

At a moment when two-thirds of the ASEAN region is 35 or younger, the voices of youth leaders are more important than ever.  Our commitment to deepening people-to-people ties and emboldening the leaders of the next generation is marked by nearly 6,000 Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative program alumni and the YSEALI network’s more than 150,000 members.  Building off Indonesia’s ASEAN chair year theme, “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth,” the “YSEALI Matters Forum: Leading with Impact” is bringing together 40 YSEALI alumni for a two-day program in Indonesia on the sidelines of the U.S.-ASEAN Summit.  In addition, U.S. and Southeast Asian experts and officials will lead sessions and offer their expertise.  Discussions will focus on impactful leadership, harnessing social media, the potential of artificial intelligence as a vehicle for public good, taking action through private-public partnerships, and the intersection of community and civic engagement.

During her trip to Jakarta, the Vice President will have an opportunity to meet  these YSEALI delegates, recognize the critical role youth play in advancing ASEAN centrality, and underscore the United States’ enduring commitment to young leaders and the future prosperity and security of Southeast Asia.


2023 marks the 10th anniversary of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), the U.S. Government’s signature leadership development and networking program for youth across Southeast Asia.

YSEALI seeks to build the leadership capabilities of youth in the region, strengthen ties between the people of the United States and Southeast Asia, and nurture a community of leaders who work across borders to solve shared issues.

YSEALI is open to young people ages 18-35 from all Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member countries (Burma, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and Timor-Leste. Responding to priorities from youth in Southeast Asia, YSEALI programs focus on four themes: Civic Engagement; Economic Empowerment and Social Entrepreneurship; Education; and Environmental Issues

YSEALI opportunities include professional and academic exchanges in the United States, regional workshops and the YSEALI Academy at Fulbright University Vietnam for networking and skills development, digital media engagement, and a YSEALI Seeds for the Future grant competition to support emerging leaders’ efforts to address regional issues.

On the margins of the U.S.-ASEAN Summit, the United States is announcing YSEALI Next, an alumni network executive steering committee to advise on YSEALI’s future goals by charting the next ten years of YSEALI from a program participant perspective. The committee will have members from each of the 10 ASEAN member states and Timor-Leste, representing the geographic, racial, religious, and ethnic diversity of Southeast Asia.

Alumni and network members are committed to leading positive change in the areas of civic engagement; economic empowerment and social entrepreneurship; education access; and environment and sustainability.  YSEALI members represent the breadth and diversity of ASEAN, but they all exemplify the YSEALI motto: never too young to lead.

The United States will continue to engage and empower ASEAN youth and young professionals through YSEALI.  Since January 2023, more than 6,700 YSEALI members have taken YSEALI Learns online courses.  The U.S. Department of State is also on track to double the number of YSEALI professional and academic fellowship exchange opportunities from 450 to900 by 2025.


Beyond YSEALI, the United States engages with ASEAN member countries through high school, university, and professional and cultural exchange programs, grants, and more.  The Department of State has awarded 269 grants to alumni of our exchange programs from ASEAN member states, runs 7,500 programs at 51 American Spaces in ASEAN countries; and has nominated more than 48,000 students, researchers, and professionals from ASEAN member states to U.S. government-funded academic and professional programs.

  • U.S.-ASEAN Institute for Rising Leaders:  In August 2023, the Department of State and Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (JHU SAIS) inaugurated the first cohort of the Rising Leaders program.  The group of 31 mid-career public service professionals joined JHU SAIS for a multi-week leadership development program aimed at deepening the participants’ understanding of key international issues such as energy and environment, emerging technologies, public health, and security.
  • Billion Futures Initiative:  The third cohort of participants under the Billion Futures Initiative will begin their studies at U.S. universities across the United States in fall 2023.  For FY2023, the Billion Futures Initiative is providing 90 additional grants for students from ASEAN countries and Timor-Leste to study at U.S. universities through the Fulbright and the Global UGRAD programs.  Included in Billion Futures Initiative is USAID’s five-year $19 million Lincoln Scholarship Program in Burma, which will support 135 young leaders from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds to earn master’s degrees in the United States.
  • Southeast Asia Youth Leadership Program (SEAYLP): In addition to YSEALI, the United States supports the Southeast Asia Youth Leadership Program (SEAYLP), the only ASEAN-specific program for high school students.  Each year, SEAYLP brings 60 participants to the United States for a three-week program focused on civic education, leadership, diversity, and volunteerism, preparing them to conduct projects at home that serve a community need.  More than 800 students have participated in SEAYLP thus far.
  • U.S. ASEAN University Connections Initiative (UCI):  The Department of State launched UCI to focus on developing higher education partnerships.  In February 2023, 25 leaders from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam joined counterparts in the United States for training and networking opportunities designed to foster sustainable international academic partnerships.
  • Fulbright U.S.-ASEAN Visiting Scholar Program:  The Department of State has doubled the number of Fulbright U.S.-ASEAN Visiting Scholars, with 20 scholars selected to come to the United States during the 2023-24 academic year.  This regional program, is designed to increase collaboration through research projects that focus on U.S.-ASEAN cooperation and ASEAN priorities. The Fulbright U.S.-ASEAN Scholar Program builds upon the more than 500 participants from ASEAN member country citizens who are currently in the United States, and U.S. citizens who are in ASEAN countries on Fulbright awards for study, research or teaching.
  • Humphrey Fellowship Alumni Global Policy Dialogue:  To celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Humphrey Fellowship Program, in September 2023, the Department of State will host 40 alumni from ASEAN member states and the Pacific Islands for a conference in the Philippines focused on promoting economic diversification and prosperity in East Asia and the Pacific.  Since 1978, there have been over 500 Humphrey alumni from ASEAN member states, including government ministers, supreme court justices, and leaders in diverse organizations that have furthered policy goals in their home countries and globally in critical fields such as human rights, climate change, and economic development.
  • Science, Technology, and Innovation Cooperation Program (STIC):  Through STIC, theVirtual Talent Mobility Portal was launched to strengthen science, technology, and innovation cooperation between the United States and Southeast Asian countries, with more than 1,600 participants enrolling in the portal.
  • International Visitor Leadership Program:  Each year nearly 5,000 international visitors visit the United States on the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) – including visitors from ASEAN countries. More than 200,000 international visitors have engaged with Americans through the IVLP, including more than 500 current or former chiefs of state or heads of governments. In 2024, a program will send governing officials of cities throughout ASEAN member states to the United States for an IVLP.
  • Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE):  Launched in Southeast Asia in 2020,AWE provides women with the knowledge, networks, and access they need to start and scale successful businesses and has empowered more than 1,000 women in sectors ranging from sustainable farming to mental healthcare in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • English Language Programs:  Over the last year, the State Department has significantly expanded in-person and virtual exchanges across Southeast Asia through the English Language Specialist, English Language Fellow, and English Language Virtual Educator programs.  These programs have mobilized 158 American English language instructors through virtual and in-person programming to improve English language learning in ASEAN member states.
  • ASEAN-USAID Partnership for Regional Optimization within the Political-Security and Soc-Cultural Communities (PROSPECT):  Through PROSPECT, the United States has developed and implemented training programs for youth from all ASEAN member states to bolster their leadership and technical skills.  PROSPECT raised awareness and mobilized youth from different communities on promoting inclusion and tolerance, access to healthcare during the pandemic, and sustainable development goals.


The United States continues to build, develop, and encourage partnerships between U.S. and Southeast Asian scholars and universities, as well as entrepreneurs and business leaders.

  • ASEAN-USAID Inclusive Growth in ASEAN through Innovation, Trade and E-Commerce (IGNITE):  Through IGNITE, the United States works to leverage the extraordinary potential of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and promote greater linkages among government, private sector, and academia to encourage growth through research and development, including commercialization of research.  The project supports the Underwriters Laboratories-ASEAN-U.S. Science Prize for Women.  The theme for 2023 is “Electrification,” and this year’s prize will be announced in October 2023.
  • U.S.-ASEAN Smart Cities Partnership (USASCP):  On the margins of the 2023 U.S.-ASEAN Summit, the Department of State is hosting the symposium on Accelerating Science, Technology, and Circular Innovation in Southeast Asia, in cooperation with U.S.-ASEAN Smart Cities Partnership (USASCP), Arizona State University, and the Rochester Institute of Technology. This builds on an April 2023 collaboration with the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration in which USASCP hosted the ASEAN Secure Smart Cities Exchange Program, which brought a delegation of cybersecurity experts from across ASEAN countries to San Francisco, California, for a cybersecurity conference and to meet with private and public sector leaders working to develop cybersecurity-related technology, service, and policy solutions.  This program enabled participants from Southeast Asian city and national governments to pursue best practices for making ASEAN cities more resilient and to access new technologies and services to strengthen their cybersecurity infrastructure.
  • Coalition for Climate Entrepreneurship (CCE) ASEAN event with ACCMSME:  In late 2023, the Department of State, together with the ASEAN Coordinating Committee on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (ACCMSME) and USAID, will hold a workshop tentatively scheduled to take place in Bangkok, Thailand, to advance the eco-entrepreneurial ecosystem in the ASEAN region.  The workshop supports entrepreneurs who intend to explore opportunities and market expansion through the adoption of greener practices, as well as policymakers in the ASEAN region, to support the greening of entrepreneurs and business owners of MSMEs in the growth stage.
  • The Partnerships for Business Resilience and Recovery (PBRR):  From January 2022 – January 2023, supported by the Department of State through the COVID-19 Private Sector Engagement and Partnership Fund, PBRR partners forged new networks of entrepreneurs and SMEs in Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam, to facilitate collaborative efforts to accelerate economic recovery. PBRR implemented 28 in-person business resilience training and outreach events for businesses and entrepreneurs in ASEAN.

Source : USEmbassy.gov